HP wireless gateway hn200w
A software maze
Unlike most wireless gateways, the $220 HP requires that you install software to get started. However, incompatibility caused by the app kept the unit from working with Windows XP, and HP's support was unable to fully identify the problem (we even downloaded a beta firmware upgrade to no avail). HP expects to resolve all XP incompatibility issues by June 2002, but for now, we used Windows 2000 to test the gateway instead. The unit comes with an illustrated Quick Start Guide, which covers basic hardware installation, but for more detailed information, you'll need to refer to the comprehensive user guide located on the CD-ROM.
The gateway's setup process began relatively smoothly. When you insert the CD and start the installation wizard, the software automatically grabs your ISP's settings instead of asking you to enter them manually--a nice touch. Once you've installed the Gateway Control Panel, however, you're faced with a tabbed, quirky interface that uses nonstandard language (unprotected in place of DMZ, for example) and hides basic features. While novices may appreciate the nontechnical wording, we found it ultimately more confusing. Anyone familiar with routers will head straight for the Expert Interface tab, which provides browser access to settings. There, you'll find such essentials as MAC address cloning, without which some ISPs might stop you cold.
Accent on access
Beyond basic network-address translation NAT, which hides your computers' IP addresses, HP sacrifices security for accessibility. For example, the manual recommends against turning on either 64- or 128-bit WEP encryption (if you can find it) because of the resulting performance hit. Additionally, there's no function that alerts you to unauthorized attempts to hack your network. At least you can go through the Expert Interface and disallow individual MAC addresses or grant access to only those with MAC addresses on your list.
The most unusual twist is the elaborate set of options for controlling access rights on your network. The Gateway Control Panel makes it easy to disable Internet access for any computer on your LAN. But it gets more granular than that--you can even block individual applications (such as multiplayer games) from accessing the Internet. Even better is the Gateway Control Panel's ability to make specific applications available over the Internet with a few clicks, without demanding that you mess around with port forwarding.
Performance makes the grade
In CNET Labs' tests, the HP tied with the Belkin wireless cable/DSL gateway router and the Siemens SpeedStream, all three of which achieved 802.11b throughput rates of 4.9Mbps, more than enough for home use. A Windows XP system ran the tests for Belkin's and Siemens's units, however, so we couldn't be sure that running Windows 2000 with the HP (as we were forced to do) affected performance. The unit's range and ability to penetrate walls were right up there with those of the best 802.11b gateways. And the $120 HP 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card we used in our tests was a snap to set up. HP also sells a convenient $130 wireless USB network adapter for desktop use.
The meager service and support for HP's gateway is another reason we can't recommend it highly. Its mere one-year warranty is outstripped by the longer guarantees offered by competitors. Free phone support is available 24/7 during the warranty period, but you'll have to pay toll charges. The Web site is helpful, though, with FAQs, manuals, software updates, and other useful information.
In the end, the HP wireless gateway hn200w amounts to a failed attempt to create an easy home-networking appliance. It works conceptually, offering a sweet design and some automatic configuration, but the execution could use some work. If HP fixed the XP problem, redesigned the software, and provided a longer warranty, the company could have a hot little gateway on its hands.
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
|How we tested|
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot software as our benchmark. For our wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and maximum signal strength. CNET Labs also runs Chariot software using the TCP protocol in response-time tests. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.